About Chinese Herbs

Chinese herbs in bulk form

Chinese herbs in bulk form

Herbs have been used in China to maintain and restore health for thousands of years.  Before the advent of acupuncture, about 2,000 years ago, the herbs were the only form of medicine available, and were so effective that they enabled China’s population to stay healthy and to become the largest now on earth.  Herbs continue to be a big part of medical treatment today.

For some conditions, like pain, there will be no substitute for acupuncture treatment.  But for many internal medical issues, such as insomnia, menstrual irregularities, headaches, and digestive issues, to name a few, herbs can be a powerful, and even necessary adjunct to the acupuncture treatment.  In China, they will commonly use the herbs on their own for these, or similar conditions.

Chinese herbs are prescribed very differently from western herbs or drugs.  They are combined in herbal “formulas”, with anywhere from 3 or 4 herbs being used, to as many as 20.  These formulas can be administered in bulk form, or as pre-made “patents”.  Below you can read more about each form.

Bulk herbs will be given to the patient in paper bags that they then take home and cook, to drink as tea. Or, they may be given as a powder which the patient will dissolve in warm water.  There are some benefits of taking herbs this way.  First, the herbalist is able to pick and choose the exact herbs in the exact dosage that each patient needs.  As the condition changes, some herbs can be removed, and others added.  This allows for incredibly precise and flexible prescribing.  Also, the bulk herbs tend to be the most powerful and fast acting, so for acute cases, they are the first, and maybe the only, method of choice.    The down side is they tend to be more expensive, and are time consuming to prepare.  They can often times be very strong, or even unpleasant tasting, which decreases the likelihood that patients will drink them.

bulk and patent herbs

Patent herbs are shown in bottle

Patents are herbal formulas that have been combined to treat the most common conditions.  Patent herbs provide a much more convenient method of taking herbs. They are in pill form, and are therefore very convenient for the patient to carry with them and require no preparation time.  They also tend to be much less expensive.  The downside is that they are not as fast-acting or strong, so are usually not suitable for acute or severe conditions.  For chronic conditions, however, they can be an excellent choice.

A patient might be given a bulk tea to prepare to take for the first couple weeks of therapy, and once the acute or severe stages have passed, they can switch to a patent formula.

There have been many concerns over recent years as to the purity and quality of Chinese Herbs.  This is a very real concern, and it is absolutely necessary that an herbalist know where their products come from, and that they have done extensive checks to make sure that the product they are offering is of the highest quality.  They should be able to list the steps that each manufacturer and grower has taken to ensure the quality of their herbs.